Bowling 101: What No One Tells You About Learning How to Bowl

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So, the time has come! You are finally doing it; you are finally entering the exciting world of bowling.

Perhaps you’ve had some experience with the game at some point?

A childhood birthday party, an evening out with friends or a family outing?

Perhaps you’ve never picked up a bowling ball and you are just ready to give it a try?

Whatever your background is we bid you welcome to a sport that has endured through thousands of years to be called one of America’s greatest pastimes!

Now that you have come to the decision to enter the strategic world of bowling you find a small question has been nagging at the back of your head, where do you even start?

Welcome to bowling for beginners.

How to Play

Well, one good place to start your bowling journey would most certainly be how to play the game in the first place!

Many people tend to think bowling is an easy sport, after all, you’re just throwing a ball down a lane, how hard could it be?

This type of thinking could not be further from the truth!

If you ask any bowler who participates in leagues or bowls on a professional level you will most certainly be (politely) informed that bowling is quite a complex and intricate sport. While bowling carries a good variety of physical benefits, like muscle workouts and low impact exercise, your brain will also get quite a workout playing this strategy based game.

In order to be successful as a bowler you will need to be able to aim a heavily weighted ball, complete a throw and release of the ball with minimal error, have given the ball enough power to get through a sixty foot lane’s oil pattern and hit the ten pyramid formatted pins just right to get maximum points.

Oh yeah, and there are also two gutters on each side of the lane to snag your ball should your aim be too far off!

What’s more, you only get two throws per turn and each game is played in a set of ten frames. You want to knock down as many pins as you can in each frame so your scores can add up together.

When you knock all your pins down the first throw we call that a strike and it is the highest possible scoring for a turn. After a strike comes the spare for most points possible, this is where you finishing knocking down all the pins on your second throw.

After that, you only get points for how many pins you’ve knocked down with each pin representing one point.

Supplies

Another good place to start your bowling journey would be knowing what type of supplies and bowling equipment you will need in order to play the game. Bowling is an incredibly interactive sport that utilizes a lot of different tools during its gameplay.

What is important is knowing how each piece of equipment contributes to the game and how you can use it to the best of its ability.

List of Supplies:

  • Shoes
  • Bag
  • Cleaning Supplies
  • Ball
  • Supports/Braces

Shoes

bowling shoesBowling shoes are perhaps one of the most important supplies a bowler can use. Bowling shoes are specially designed footwear that helps support your body as it moves through your bowling stance.

When you bowl you are throwing a large weight on one side of your body. Now if you were wearing regular shoes their traction would stop you abruptly at the end of the lane, causing you to abruptly throw the ball thereby wrecking your shot and possibly resulting in injury.

Bowling shoes take away that risk by incorporating certain material that allows what is commonly called a “slide”.

What this means is that when you release your ball, instead of your shoes grabbing the floor and causing a loss in balance, they follow the momentum of your body to glide forward a bit.

This works to take away the risk of injury and the strain on your muscles and joints that can be caused by abrupt stops or improper form.

Bag

bowling bagWhile there are generally lockers available at bowling alleys for those who participate in leagues having a designated bag to carry bowling supplies in is always a good idea.

While durable, bowling balls are not invincible!

Slips and drops do cause damage to them, either through scratches or dents that can affect rolls or the absorption of dirt and dust into the microscopic pores that decorate your ball’s surface to create friction.

Having a bag lessens the chance of your ball being dropped and damaged by giving you a safe, designated place to keep your ball. It also provides a handy place to keep other supplies so they are all in one spot.

Cleaning Supplies

Like any other sport if you use your equipment in bowling it will get dirty. While bowling balls don’t necessarily get kicked around on the ground like soccer or American footballs they do get thrown through what is called an oil pattern.

An oil pattern is a slick of oil that is laid down on the wooden lane to protect the wood’s surface from the repetitive friction of the bowling balls.

Originally laid down for the purpose of protecting the wood bowlers quickly realized the oil was affecting how their balls reacted to each throw. This lead to the transformation of how the oil was laid down onto the lane, resulting in different oil patterns that affected the level of difficulty for each lane.

While this is great for offering a challenge to bowlers there was one main drawback to the oil pattern’s use.

The oil gets absorbed into the microscopic pores that cover each bowling ball, eventually reducing friction and creating a ‘dead’ bowling ball.

In order to combat this pore clogging, you need to clean your ball regularly with a variety of cleaning products and methods.

Cleaner Sprays

You can purchase a variety of cleaner sprays at your local professional bowling shop. The spray should be administered to your bowling ball after each throw and wiped down to help prevent the absorption of oil.

These sprays should also be legalized by the USBC (United States Bowling Congress) for use in a league.

Microfiber Towel

This towel should be used with the sprays and several other cleaning methods to help wipe down the bowling ball.

Resurfacing, Bath, and Bake

Even with regular ball maintenance your bowling ball will eventually get clogged and lose its reaction. When this occurs take it into your local pro shop for a resurfacing, oven bake or give it a bath at home.

Bathing/baking should be done after thirty to forty games and resurfacing should be done after your sixtieth game.

(Note: Do NOT do anything of these methods without proper research. Going in blindly can result in a damaged or ruined ball.)

Sanding Agents, Polishes, and Compounds

Used after deep cleans like resurfacing or baking to adjust your ball back to your desired grit. The grit affects the friction of the ball, therefore directly influencing the grab of your ball. Make sure you have some on hand for self-maintenance.

While there are many ways that you can clean your bowling ball what is important to understand is how vital proper maintenance is to your ball’s life span.

Cleaning after each use and going in for deep cleans when necessary will help keep your ball healthy for a longer period of time. Eventually, your ball will not be able to be restored and it will be time to look into purchasing a new bowling ball.

(This is perfectly normal, after all, you don’t expect a football to last forever when it is constantly used.) However, with constant maintenance, your ball will last a lot longer!

Bowling Ball

When it comes to bowling, your bowling ball is the most important tool in your arsenal. Without a ball there is no bowling, you would simply be stuck at the end of a sixty-foot lane yelling at some pins in hopes they would fall down and nobody considers that a fun way to pass the time.

Now while many bowling alleys offer house balls or balls that are owned by the alley for bowlers to use, if you are considering taking bowling more seriously you are going to want your own set of bowling balls.

(Yes, you read that right, you want more than one ball and each ball should be different!) House balls are great for recreational or start-up bowlers as they get adjusted to the game but as you join leagues and begin weekly practices they quickly lose their charm.

This is due to the fact that house balls are used by many and therefore have many different variables that can be changed and altered through the course of their use.

You could find a house ball that works great for you but come back for one practice and learn it has a huge dent in it from an over-exuberant midnight bowler.

You’re also not allowed to make surfacing changes to house balls that allow a ball to respond better to your bowling style. By purchasing your own set of balls you are able to protect and care for those balls as well as modify it to suit your needs.

Many bowlers have more than one bowling ball so they can adapt to lane conditions or use one as a spare ball. (A spare ball generally being a straight shooting ball that is used to pick up pins)

Selecting Your Own Ball

If this is the first time you are purchasing your own bowling ball it is strongly recommended that you do not go online. Sure bowling balls tend to be a little cheaper on the internet, but you will probably want to go to your local pro shop and order your ball there.

The reasoning behind this is due to the fact that the shop owners know their stuff. They can help you narrow down what you are looking for in a ball and what type of components need to go into your ball to suit your style.

They are also a good go-to for advice on different cleaners, rules and regulations in the game and have machines that will help resurface or deep clean your ball for a small fee.

Now while it is a good idea to go talk to your pro shop for advice on bowling balls, it’s also a good idea to have a general understanding of what a bowling ball is made out of and how the different parts work together to give your ball different reactions.

Ball Types

When looking at the types of bowling balls it can be a little overwhelming. Different brands can sometimes have different names for different types of balls or different components.

With so much variety it can be hard to nail down what exactly you want out of a ball. (Another reason we recommend a pro shop for first-time buyers.) Due to this is it usually best to look at a bowling ball by the parts it is composed of and break down its type from there.

There are two main parts a bowling ball is composed of, the coverstock and the weight block. The coverstock is the part of the bowling ball we see (usually decorated in attractive colors and designs) and is the most influential with hook potential.

Coverstocks have a variety of microscopic pores all over their surface and these pores are used to generate friction and affect how the ball reacts to certain lane conditions. The core (or weight block) is the inner part of the ball and come in two main figurations, symmetrical and asymmetrical.

The core is generally in charge of the motion of the ball as it rolls down the lane.

Coverstocks

As we mentioned before coverstocks are the outer part of the ball and will affect the ball’s hook potential.

Due to this, there are many different types of coverstocks out there that will all cause different reactions with your ball. We’ve narrowed down this expansive list to the top six used in the bowling world.

Plastic: This type of coverstock is typically used for beginners and you will find it often on the house balls in bowling alleys. A plastic coverstock has the least hook potential and is great for straight, predictable throws. Due to the low hook potential, this ball is typically used for beginners or as a spare ball when a bowler needs to take out lane play.

Urethane: Urethan balls are a step up from plastic balls due to their higher hook potential. A lot of professionals also like to use urethane coverstock balls as their spare ball due to its higher pin action, higher hook potential and ability to still offer the bowler a higher level of control.

Reactive Resign: Reactive resign is a type of coverstock that is best used by intermediate or advanced bowlers. It is less durable than plastic or urethane but offers more friction, pin action and hook potential.

There are also good for lanes with heavy to medium oil conditions. Since these coverstocks have a higher amount of generated friction they also have a higher sensitivity to bowling lane conditions and bowler error. It is also most commonly separated into three different types.

Pearl: This reactive coverstock will get you the longest length down the lane before it reacts on the back end of the lane. This is done by having mica material blended in with the other coverstock material.

The mica roughens up the microscopic pores in the coverstock allowing for better friction and reaction. This type of reactive coverstock is usually recognizable by the sparkle the mica adds to the surface.

Solid: The solid reactive coverstocks are typically made with matte finishes and are great choices for heavy lane conditions. This type of coverstock is considered the strongest and will react the earliest of the three resign types.

Quite a few microscopic pores decorate the solid coverstock surface and these pores are what helps the solid coverstock cut through heavy oil patterns so easily. Due to the amount of these hills and valleys in the solid’s surface, it does have a tendency to absorb oil a lot faster than other coverstocks might.

Hybrid: The goal of the hybrid coverstock was to take the benefits of both the pearl and solid coverstocks and combine them together. This type of cover is considered the medium ball of the three reactive types.

A hybrid will react earlier than a pearl but will also go longer compared to a solid. They are considered a versatile ball and are extremely useful for figuring out lane conditions and ball switch-ups.

Particle: This type of coverstock is also known as a proactive coverstock. The surface of this type is extremely bumpy, allowing for more friction while sacrificing control. This type of ball is only recommended for intermediate or advanced bowlers (i.e., strokers, crankers, two-handers or other hook bowlers).

Cores

There are typically two types of cores that bowlers use when crafting their ball, symmetrical and asymmetrical. The core helps control the motion of the ball as it rolls down the lane so it is important to know if you want a ball with a smooth controllable motion or a little more power.

Symmetrical: The symmetrical core is where the RG (Radius of Gyration) values of the ball’s axis do not differ by more than 5%. This offers a ball that has a smooth, controllable motion as it rolls down the lane.

Asymmetrical: An asymmetrical core, as you may imagine, is the opposite of a symmetrical core. With RG values of the ball’s axis that do differ more than 5% an asymmetrical core gives you the possibility of a more reactive ball.

These balls tend to rev up fast, have aggressive movement and finish strong on the back end. There are also great for navigating heavy oil patterns but bowlers may need a little help curving the ball. Due to this it is not generally recommended that beginner bowlers start off with an asymmetrical core.

Ball Specs

So now that you know the pieces of a bowling ball and the parts they play in your ball’s motion the next step would be knowing how to read your ball’s specs.

When you look at any bowling ball you’ll see two major specifications (three if you use an asymmetrical core) that need to be in the correct range.

Knowing what those specs, Radius of Gyration, Differential and Intermediate Differential, mean will help you monitor your ball’s abilities as well as its legality in a bowling league.

Radius of Gyration: The Radius of Gyration describes how center-heavy or coverstock heavy your core is. Lower numbers mean you’ll have a smoother, more controllable hook and higher numbers mean there is more weight placed near the coverstock, resulting in more length before you hook.

The legal range of your RG according to the USBC (United State Bowling Congress) is between 2.46-2.80, with the average being around 2.48-2.58.

Differential: This shows the potential the ball has for track flare (the balls ability to migrate to different axises as it rolls down the lane). Lower numbers with this spec mean less track flare, more hook and a set reaction. High numbers represent the ball’s ability to have high flare and an even, continuous response to friction. Legal numbers are between 0-0.06.

Intermediate Differential (also known as Mass Bias Rating): This is the specification that is only used for asymmetrical cores. A low Intermediate Differential puts the ball close to symmetrical reactions but retains its turnability and response. Higher numbers mean there is more asymmetry in the core and you can expect a quicker hook phase.

Support

Perhaps one of the most underplayed pieces of equipment in bowling is supports and braces. Some bowlers fall under the misconception that if they are not injured they do not need a brace or support for their joints (i.e., knee brace or wrist brace).

This belief is wrong!

When you bowl you put a lot of strain and pressure on your body, specifically in the wrist, elbow, shoulder and knee department. Using support or a brace to help take some of the strain of your joints will help prevent injury and may even improve your form!

So now that you have a rundown on how to start your own bowling journey we wish you the best of luck!

Remember, you are not going to come out of the gate as a high-class professional bowler, even if you have the right supplies and equipment.

In order to succeed in the world of bowling, you will need to practice and practice hard! Bowling is a very complex sport, with a lot of mental strategies intertwined with its physical play. That’s okay though, the challenge just gives beginning bowlers something to work towards!

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